I'm always thoroughly amused by the three-ring Common Core Circus with their snake oil salesmen, side-show freaks, and their "its JUST state-led standards" dog and pony show; which they always seem to follow up with the laughable "100% completely voluntary, states were not coerced, Arkansas received no incentives for adopting the CCSS" clown show extravaganza. But wait! There's more! What good is a circus without a few thrills and chills? The Common Core Circus doesn't disappoint. With the states' death-defying, "No Child Left Behind Tightrope of Waivers" balancing act, they carefully walk their waiver tightropes or risk plunging into the abyss of dreaded NCLB accountability. Yikes!
By: Jennifer Helms, PhD, RN
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are due to begin their rollout in the fall of 2016 in the state of Arkansas. The K-4 standards will begin in 2016, followed by grades 5-8 in 2017, and grades 9-12 in 2018. The standards were written in 2011-2013 and released in April 2013. Here is the timeline.
These new standards leave a great deal to be desired, and by that, I mean that they are abysmal. I have read the entire 103-page document; and then I compared the NGSS K-12 standards with the current Arkansas Frameworks standards that can be found here. What I discovered was not just disappointing, it was disturbing.
The NGSS began with a framework document, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education” and here is the jewel quote of their document, which enlightens us all to the abominably low level standards we will find in the NGSS:
The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.
Notice the words or phrases “appreciation,” “possess sufficient knowledge…to engage in public discussions,” “consumers,” “able to continue to learn.” These are science appreciation standards, not science learning/understanding/synthesizing standards. The most startling goal statement of this document is the last one, “have the skills to enter careers of their choice.” This particular goal of the Framework seems outrageous considering the low level standard we see in NGSS.
I am a nursing professor, so my interest in the NGSS focuses mainly on biology and human body systems. I want to know if young people coming to college will be prepared for post-secondary science courses which are prerequisite for nursing courses. I am, after all, looking for possible deficiencies so that I can alert my colleagues to what kind of remediation might be needed if the standards were inadequate in any area.
I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Or maybe I should say that I wasn’t prepared for what I didn’t find.
In the NGSS high school standards (or any of the K-8 standards for that matter), there is NO HUMAN BODY SYSTEM standard whatsoever. No standard for human organs, tissues, or function. No anatomy or physiology. I read the entire document looking for something pertaining to a human organ. Any organ. Just an eyeball maybe. Anything.
The closest these standards come to a human body standard is the HS-LS1 Section entitled “From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes.” The seven standards contained within this section refer to DNA, multicellular organisms, cellular division, homeostasis, and a few other “structures and processes” at the cellular level. But in the fine print under each one (and I do mean fine print – I really needed some stronger glasses for this), there are clarification statements that specifically state what is not assessed (translation: what is not on the test). And we all know by now that if it isn’t tested, it isn’t taught. And sadly, there is much content listed in this document that “isn’t on the test” and therefore will likely not be taught.
For example, there is no mention of bacteria or viruses. No mention at all. How can that be possible? There are other glaring deficiencies in the NGSS unrelated to life science. For example, the term “climate” is used 58 times, yet the term “electrical circuit” is found only once.
To say that the NGSS are inadequate in preparing high school students for any further science study, from technical or vocational programs to university science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) courses, is a colossal understatement. So much for the claims of “rigor.” I’m starting to really hate that word.
And finally, how do our current state standards in science compare with NGSS?
The great state of Arkansas should take a great deal of pride in our current science education standards. They are by far superior to the NGSS! The Fordham Institute reported in their document, Final Evaluation of the Next Generation Science Standards, that Arkansas standards are “clearly superior” to the NGSS. They compared the NGSS with all states plus four other frameworks. Arkansas ranked 10th in a list of 56, but despite this, our Department of Education has chosen to "endorse" the NGSS which are considerably lower in content, depth, and breadth.
The Fordham Institute report details the many deficiencies in the NGSS. Page 10 of the document summarizes it best with this quote:
The NGSS do not define advanced work in the sciences. Based on review from college and career faculty and staff, the NGSS form a foundation for advanced work, but students wishing to move into STEM fields should be encouraged to follow their interest in additional coursework.
Essentially, they are saying that high school students will need to know (while still in high school) that they require additional science courses to fill the gaps, and it is their responsibility to pursue those courses since they won’t get what they need from NGSS. Unfortunately, many high school students do not yet know which field they will pursue. They are still discovering their interests at that point, so it seems unfair to assume that a teenager is going to be able to so clearly plan his/her course of future study while still in high school.
The science education standards that we currently have are superior to the newer standards on the horizon. It is my hope that Arkansas will carefully consider the consequences of adoption of the NGSS, although I’m not hopeful. I suppose it’s all about the varying definitions of that annoying word “rigor.”
The school year is barely underway, but the pushback on standardized testing is growing in leaps and bounds. According to FairTest.org:
Make this your Facebook profile picture to raise awareness, empower parents with knowledge
and show your support for Arkansas students and teachers as they go back to school.
The lazy days of summer are over as this week marks the start of the 2014-2015 school year for Arkansas students. Back to school almost always includes:
Students with perfectly good grades are being forced to go to summer school at one Arkansas school. Parents of some students at Ahlf Junior High School in Searcy were incensed when they received this letter:
According to the letter from Principal Gene Hodges, these students have been “selected to participate in Jump Start, Ahlf Junior High School’s summer enrichment and remediation program.” But why would students with passing grades be required to attend summer school?
This selection is based on his/her Arkansas Augmented Benchmark score of less than proficient in math, literacy, and/or science. If you[r] child is below proficient in any area on the Arkansas Augmented Benchmark exam the school is required to develop an Academic Improvement Plan (AIP) and provide remediation for the deficient areas. Our remediation will be provided during Jump Start. . .
Standardized test scores are to blame. No wonder parents are upset and for obvious reasons! Since when in education did a student's ability to score proficient on a standardized test become the be-all and end-all?
We too were just as outraged to hear this, but for other "not-so-obvious" reasons. . .starting with the letter itself. Principal Hodges scares parents by citing Arkansas law and threatening retention should their child not participate in the "academic improvement plan."
Arkansas law (A.C.A. 6-15-2009) states: (4) A student in grades three through eight (3-8) identified as not passing a benchmark assessment and who fails to participate in the subsequent academic improvement plan shall be retained and shall not be promoted to the next appropriate grade until: (A) The student is deemed to have participated in an academic improvement plan; or (B) The student passes the benchmark assessment for the current grade level in which the student is retained.
The letter is correct. Per the Arkansas Department of Education Rules Governing the Arkansas Comprehensive Testing, Assessment and Accountability Program (ACTAAP), the school is required to develop an Academic Improvement Plan (AIP). ACTAAP rules are very specific concerning what is required of schools.
7.02. Students identified as failing to achieve at the proficient level. . .shall be evaluated by school personnel, who shall jointly develop a remediation plan with the student’s parents. The remediation plan (AIP or if appropriate IRI) will assist the student in achieving the expected standard and will describe the parent’s role and responsibilities as well as the consequences for the student’s failure to participate in the plan.
ACTAAP rules are also very specific about the format to be used when preparing the AIP.
7.02.1 The AIP shall be prepared using the format designed by the Department of Education. However, the local school may adjust the format as deemed necessary.
The rules go on to further expound on the required cooperative development in consultation with parents and includes that a parent's signature is required.
7.02.2 The AIP shall be developed cooperatively by appropriate teachers and/or other school personnel knowledgeable about the student’s performance or responsible for the remediation in consultation with the student’s parents. An analysis of student strengths and deficiencies based on test data and previous student records shall be available for use in developing the plan. The plan shall be signed by the appropriate school administrator and the parent/guardian.
We asked a few parents to provide copies of their student's Academic Improvement Plan. These parents did not know what we were talking about; although one parent provided the letter above, thinking this was the Academic Improvement Plan. We asked parents if they were involved in jointly developing a remediation plan. The consensus: No. We asked parents if they were asked to sign an Academic Improvement Plan developed without their consultation. The consensus: No.
It seems that not only are parental rights being usurped but that parents' lack of understanding concerning Arkansas law is being exploited. In the process, students are being strong-armed into attending summer school with threats of retention if they don't. Disturbingly, it gets worse.
You see, this past school year Arkansas students were educated under the Common Core State Standards. However, students were tested using the Arkansas Benchmark Assessment which is aligned to the previous Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks. Quite simply, students in Arkansas were taught (& learned) using a specific set of curriculum standards but tested on a different, specific set of curriculum standards.
Once again our kids are paying the price for the ill-planned, botched Common Core State Standards implementation. For students who took end-of-course assessments in Algebra I, Biology and Geometry, the negative impact is even more damaging as the test results will become part of the student's permanent record.
7.04. The results of end-of-course assessments shall become a part of each student’s transcript or permanent record. Each course for which a student completes the general end-of-course assessment shall be recorded with the performance level (advanced,
Neither are our beloved teachers unsusceptible. Adding insult to injury, they are held accountable for the "less than proficient" scores of their students. These scores are viewed as a direct reflection of a teacher's effectiveness; and are also viewed as objective feedback for Arkansas's teacher evaluation system known as TESS. This idea of teachers being wholly responsible for the education of our children (or lack thereof) and holding them accountable using high-stakes evaluation systems such as TESS is just plain wrong and only serves to further erode public education.
These and other harmful effects of standardized testing are the legacy of the failed "No Child Left Behind" education reform. The Common Core State Standards Initiative picks up that legacy and exacerbates the ill-effects, leaving students and parents in the wake of its destruction. When does it stop? When do school administrators, superintendents, elected officials, and our state department of education stand up and say "Enough is enough! In Arkansas, we put children first!"
Here at Arkansas Against Common Core, we share the same hope as Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools:
Whether this growing resistance will lead to better, more democratic efforts to sustain and improve public education, or be overwhelmed by the massive testing apparatus that NCLB left behind and that the Common Core seeks to expand, will depend on the organizing and advocacy efforts of those with the most at stake: parents, educators, and students. As usual, organizing and activism are the only things that will save us, and remain our best hope for the future of public education and the democracy that depends on it.
Parents, we are the best hope for the future of public education. We are the only hope for the future of our children's education. We challenge you to empower yourself with knowledge about your rights and the rights of your children. We challenge you to use that knowledge, to stand up, to say, "Enough is enough. I am putting my child first." We would like to hear from other parents and students in this same situation. Please contact us with your story.
By: Pat Richardson
In case you missed it on Tuesday night, the Common Core promoters at Raise Our Grade held a tele-townhall to answer "questions about Arkansas's Common Core State Standards". The town hall featured none other than Fordham Institute's Michael Petrilli. Yay, someone from Washington DC to answer my questions about "Arkansas's Common Core State Standards". And as usual, not once was it disclosed that the Fordham Institute has received $7 million from the Gates Foundation to promote common core.
Petrilli answered many of the questions in very roundabout ways, as though he was avoiding things. It seemed that the longer he talked, the more he put his foot in his mouth (you can listen to the full recording here). So let's do a quick rundown of some of his statements. Be sure to keep count of how many times Petrilli says, "Let's be honest".
Not for Selective Colleges or Stem
When asked how Common Core benefits high-achieving student, Petrilli was quick to attempt to make the argument that the standards are "just a floor". In doing so, he also echoed what Jason Zimba, lead writer of the math standards, has said concerning the definition of "college and career ready". The whole idea of raising the "floor" doesn't really jive with "preparing our kids to compete in a global economy" thing.
Data Collection Woes
About 13 minutes into the town hall, a question was asked about data collection. Petrilli played it off as "confusion" and assured the audience that Common Core is "just standards", but the more he talked, the deeper he dug himself into a hole. First he said that data is being collected like it has been for years and nothing has changed, but two sentences later, his tune changed and suddenly data collection became "a real issue". It is clear that Petrilli doesn't understand what the National Education Data Model is, because it was not developed by some "academic college professors". The NEDM is a program of the U.S. Department of Education, and contrary to what Petrilli indicated, it is indeed in various stages of use across the country, as it's implementation was a condition in Race To The Top, which brings us to our next blunder.
Federal $$$ Were Involved!
His answer to this question was almost too good to be true, as common core proponents have long advocated that common core had no part in Race to the Top. At least he was finally somewhat "honest".
It's Not Just Standards?
Remember when Petrilli said that it was "just standards" earlier? Well, surprise! Less than 30 minutes later, he changed his tune to "the standards are just the beginning". Sound familiar? Bill Gates said the exact same thing in a speech at the National Conference of State Legislatures back in 2009. And "lengthen the school day or year"? Sounds like Arne Duncan in his now infamous interview with Charlie Rose.
Moving from State to state to state
Now for some insight from Gary Newton, the CEO of Arkansas Learns and the man behind the curtain at Raise Our Grade. We've heard this argument about a thousand time: "Common core will help kids who move from state to state". It sounds great in theory, and on a Utopian planet it might even work. Unfortunately, common core promoters always leave the human-factor out of the equation. Every child is a unique individual with a unique environment, therefore the pace of a student and their peers in Arkansas will probably not ever match up to the pace in Kansas.
Moving from state to state is not easy, but with a little bit of effort on everyone's part, the transition can be eased. Besides, this entire theory has never worked on a state level. Schools in Arkansas have all shared the same state standards for years, yet a move from Fayetteville to Pine Bluff inevitably resulted in a hard transition.
Of course, on the statistical level, only 1.7% of students move from state to state each year, making this entire argument null, as you can hardly justify calling that a "transient mobile society".
The training of the teachers
"Now let's be honest, it's all a work in progress…" Sorry Mike, our kids deserve an education, not some strung-together "work in progress". Not to mention that there aren't "hundreds of thousands of teachers" in Tennessee, there are only 65,000. And the EngageNY curriculum that New York "invested in" is a total joke.
Tests *ARE NOT* worth teaching to
He forgot to mention that PARCC is being built to the specifications of the US Department of Education and is funded by federal Race To The Top cash. And there is no "writing", only typing. At first it was "just standards", then it was "standards are just the beginning", now we are finally to "If teachers look to those tests and say 'How can I get my kids ready for that test?..I'm just going to have to do a better job teaching…'"
The Legislature was "involved"
Many times we have heard proponents claim that the Arkansas Legislature was totally onboard and that it was approved business as usual. This simply is not the case. Notice how he said "in 2011"…that would be one year after the standards were adopted by the state board. Refer back to the Race to the Top audio clip for an explanation of the rushed adoption. The bill that Gary Newton is referring to is SB383 of 2011, a 20+ page
Department Housecleaning Bill which contained only a few sentances devoted to Common Core. Watch this video to see the House vote on the bill. You should also note that the fiscal impact summary of the bill stated that it would have no fiscal impact, so it would be a overstatement to say that the legislature "overwhelmingly funded Common Core".
Several weeks ago, select students across the state of Arkansas field tested the new Common Core aligned standardized test known as PARCC. Some schools were chosen and others volunteered their students. Parents won't be seeing their children's scores and schools benefit nothing. Nonetheless, valuable teaching & learning time was sacrificed for the benefit of the testing company.
Well, what happened when some of those students were administered the wrong test and were told that they would have to retake the PARCC?
Via Ed Week -
The global education company Pearson has landed a major contract to administer tests aligned to the common-core standards, a project described as being of “unprecedented scale” in the U.S. testing arena by one official who helped negotiate it.
The decision to award the contract, announced Friday, was made by a group of states developing tests linked to the common core for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two main consortia of states creating exams to match the standards.
Pearson is expected to perform a broad range of duties under the contract, including development of test items, delivery of paper-and-pencil and computerized test forms, reporting of results, analysis of scores, and working with states to develop “cut scores,” or performance standards for the exams.
While a number of companies inquired in response to PARCC’s request for proposals for the project, ultimately Pearson was the only bidder, said James Mason, who helped negotiate the contract as part of a team of PARCC state leaders.
In an interview with Education Week, Mason said he could not provide a dollar figure for the contract, because the pricetag will depend on how many students and states end up participating, and whether they choose computerized or paper-and-pencil tests, among other factors.
But he described the contract with Pearson as one of “unprecedented scale, in terms of states coming together. It’s a pretty significant event in a number of ways.”
Common Core is an untested experiment with our public school students acting as the guinea pigs. Teachers want to see students succeed academically, socially and emotionally. We do not want students to be a part of an experiment.
Little Rock School District teachers from Hall High School, Amy Fuss and Amanda Warren are setting the record straight concerning popular "misconceptions" perpetuated by Common Core proponents. An op-ed piece "How to erode standards" was published in Saturday's edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. You can read the piece in its entirety below, via Raise Our Grade, "an independent [Walton funded] initiative of Arkansas Learns, a. . .private sector alliance. . .[to] ensure the talent and workforce necessary for Arkansas to successfully compete in a global economy."
Grassroots America is speaking out, as Pat Richardson so aptly portrays in this video!